Milton: A republican and a christian - Discuss
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Milton: A republican and a christian - Discuss Milton is well known as an epic poet, but also as a prominent member of the Protestant faith and he has often been labelled as a Puritan. In this essay I will attempt to explore the nature of Milton's Christianity and his personal beliefs and inner conflicts, looking for evidence particularly at Paradise Lost but also at other more minor poems. Parallells and disparities between Milton's views and other movements within the society of the day will also be considered. John Milton was also renowned as a close ally of Cromwell and a prominent exponent of the English Revolution in the seventeenth century. Indeed, after the Restoration his life was for some time in peril and even after he escaped alive, he had to retire completely from public life; such was the perceived threat he represented. The main purpose of this essay will, therefore, be to examine how Milton's stance as a Christian and his position as a staunch Republican were related and how one effected the other. Milton despised what he saw as the ornamentation and purely selfish aims of the Cavaliers and the Anglican Church. He defended the right of ordinary citizens to rid themselves of tyrants when inferior magistrates had failed to do so in The Tenure of Kinqs and Magistrates (1649) and by so doing, positioned himself very clearly as a supporter of the recent execution of Charles I, and of the Army which had purged Parliament the year before to prevent a treaty being reached with the King, possibly reinstating him on more favourable terms.
was a forren Prince, an enemie, and Ehud besides had special warrant from God.(p.17) He goes on, however, to dismantle these precepts entirely. His first point is that he can see no material difference between a foreign invader and a domestic tyrant: For look how much right the King of Spaine hath to govern us at all, so much right hath the King of England to govern us tyrannically.(p.17) He takes a supra-national perspective, using the Ciceronian notion of the Brotherhood of Man to argue that there is a bond between all humans and that the only way men can exclude themselves from this is by assuming a hostile position. He states that: (it is not) distance of place that makes enmity, but enmity that makes distance.(p.18) Therefore, any attempt to distinguish between tyrants was no more than "a weak evasion."(p.18.) Thus, as no distinction could be made, it was no longer possible to determine when an inferior magistrate was uniquely legitimate in taking action against a tyrant, or that a private person was not. Eglon, in the scriptural story was therefore undoubtedly an enemy, but not because he had no right to govern; the Israelites had indeed sworn allegiance to him; he was a tyrant by practice and not a foreign usurper. However, in order to contradict the usual Presbyterian argument that Ehud had a special warrant from God, Milton asserts that it was nowhere specifically expressed that he had received any direct command from God. Although he was: A man whom God had raysd to deliver Israel(p.17)
However, whilst Samson in Samson Aqonistes(1671) is never deserted by God and does his will until the end, although blinded, betrayed and imprisoned (the parallells with Milton are clear) he destroys the whole temple that he is imprisoned in. Milton does not destroy the temple of ideas and beliefs he has created though. He refuses to accept defeat and changes his position to recommend a different course of action. When Adam and Eve have left the Garden of Eden, Michael advises them thus: "This having learn'd, thou hast attain'd the sum Of wisdom; hope no higher, though all the stars Thou knew'st by name............................ only add Deeds to thy knowledge answerable; add faith, Add virtue, patience, temperance; add lo~ve, By name to come call'd charity, the soul Of all the rest: then wilt thou not be loath To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess A paradise within thee, happier far. His advice is meant for all Milton's audience too; they must chip away at the evil in the world, making persistent small dents: Milton came to terms with the fact that he could not transform the world as he hoped in the days when he wrote his youthful works such as On the Morninq of Christ's NativitY (1629) nor were his political ideas going to be as easily put into practice as he thought when he wrote The Tenure of Kinqs and Maqistrates (1649) but although bitterly disappointed, he has not given up, there is still a better world possible; we may just have to wait, like Adam and Eve, far longer for it than Milton had at first anticipated.
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